Tag Archives: Portland

Cannanes, Knife Pleats and The World Record at Bunk Bar 8/27/15

Tonight’s show was a mostly international indiepop treat, supplied by Australia’s long-running Cannanes, Vancouver B.C.’s Knife Pleats and Los Angeles’ The World Record

The World Record has hooky songs somewhat reminiscent of Michael Penn‘s electric stuff and is more straight-ahead pop-tinged rock than indiepop. A little bit of a less edgy Replacements feel at times, but each song offers catchy pop hook after hook, unlike some of the Replacements more forgettable efforts (I’m looking at you, “Lay It Down Clown” ). Live, The World Record has a charismatic bar-band feel, loose but not sloppy. Fourth or fifth song in, they take an unexpected turn, as the song opens with a tiki-vibe drum sample but when the band kicks in it heads to a different direction. Angular with 80’s style vocoder breaks. Next songs starts up like a 70s rock song minus the gross false machismo.

The World Record
I’m a bit in awe of that Rickenbacker bass the two front people have been trading off on. Maybe it’s the last holdover from my metal pre-adolescence where Cliff Burton was the bassist by which all others were judged by and he played Rics exclusively? At least that’s the embarrassing lens through which I view those beautiful and expensive things.

Next song has a slower darker 90’s vibe like if Toad the Wet Sprocket bothered to write a song you actually liked, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I like this, even though it falls well outside of my favored genre ranges.

Good harmonies between the guitarist and the bassist, though those terms are interchangeable due to their onstage switches, which is always something I enjoy seeing in a band.

After the switch they open into a bluesy and otherwise banal 50’s tinged rock song were it not for the understated charisma of the musicians who seem as unpretentious as possible, which is quite a feat for anyone from LA.

Knife Pleats

So the opener was pleasant and of course the The Cannanes are amazing and a foundation of the DIY pop scene from the 80’s but it’s really Rose Melberg’s Knife Pleats that I’m here to see. For starters, what an ideal indiepop name, coupling that punk edge with the sweetness of DIY pop that band names like Strawberry Switchblade, Bunnygrunt, Burnt Palms, Cassolette, Daylight Robbery, The Cudgels, The Gentle Isolation, Panda Riot, Happydeadmen, Joanna Gruesome, Papercuts, Bleeding Rainbow, and  Honeyblood all conjure; that oh-so-perfectly encapsulate the punk roots of indiepop, by contrasting the rough or abrasive with the innocent, much like Mike Schulman’s edgy guitar pairs with the crystalline sweetness of Pam Berry’s voice in Black Tambourine. Of course a “knife pleat” refers to a particular type of stitched fold popular in skirt design, but can you hear that name and not conceptualize the kinetic violence of a knife? This to me is exactly what the best DIY pop does: it channels the rough-hewn sharpness of noise and fuzz and melds it with the sweetest, most dulcet of pop sensibilities. And honestly, what in the universe is sweeter than Rose Melberg’s voice?

This show really is a who’s who of the DIY Pop crowd in the Pac NW.: I see ex-Softies bandmate Jen Sbrangia in the crowd and witness a happy reunion between her and Rose before her band goes on. Lost Sound Tapes head Jon Manning is here in the crowd as well. The highly-esteemed Gail O’Hara of Chickfactor notoriety is hanging out behind the merch table as well as longtime Olympia poplister, writer and and community fixture Courtney Klossner. Erica from the very excellent “Expressway to Yr Skull” blog is here, too.

It looks like Rose is playing a red Gretch-type hollow body guitar and Kaity McWhinney (the other guitarist, who, along with bassist Tracey Vath, are both also of ace band Love Cuts who put out this excellent split with Burnt Palms) has a what looks to be a Les Paul in a beautiful green finish that I’ve not seen before on those kinds of guitars. I’m expecting something of a “big” sound based on the instrumentation alone. I’ve not yet heard the band so I’m walking in with fresh ears, eagerly, since Rose has never disappointed in any of her many musical endeavors.

The first song, “Monocularly Blind” opens with an infectious descending riff and the chorus which takes a cool, Tiger Trap-like turn, features great harmonies with bassist Tracey Vath. It’s a high energy opener.

Next up was, “Learn to Swim”, which has a real driving feel to it.

The third song, “Chiming of Bells”, begins with a tom-heavy beat and a minor arpeggio on the Paul. Really great syncopated beats throughout. Drummer Gregor Phillips has a snare stick that he uses on some songs that has tambourine chines on it which add a cool drum texture.

The next song had the misleading title of “Terrible” but was anything but, featuring a minor, two-chord verse that sets up a sense of urgency which is then resolved by the hooky chorus in a very satisfying way.

“One Step Too Far” continues the bubble gum pop with a sharp edge.

The most infectious song of the night might be the snaky-riffed “Distant Ships”, which goes in some unexpected but natural-feeling directions the way the best songs do, that sound like nothing familiar the first time you hear them, but by the end they sound as if it is something you have always known. The true mark of artistic greatness to me is when a work is its own reference point, in the way that something like Primal Scream‘s “Velocity Girl”1 is.

The following song, “Things I Hold” has a nice minor tinge that runs through the course of the song, in a way that recalls raga-like melody lines. I think this song may be my favorite of the night.

“The Mouse” starts with a riff that could almost be rockabilly until it changes right away unexpectedly and goes in a very different direction. The chorus pulls the rug under you by altering the tempo to a suddenly dream-like quality, before the chorus kicks in again and brings things to a frantic-yet-calm space.

The aptly-named “Wonderful” has a feel of a 70’s soft rock gem funneled through a noise-pop filter that puts an easy smile on your face; the way that Ben Folds Five‘s “Battle of Who Could Care Less” does to me, against my better angels. I feel no guilty pleasure listening to “Wonderful”, however– it’s all just pleasure.

Next up is “Borders”, the unapologetically poppiest song in the set, and the closer.

The new album is due out on Sept 29 which is Rose’s birthday. This band seems to be the “rockingest” for lack of a better descriptive of any of Rose’s bands, on a level with the sweet bite of Tiger Trap, and I hold this band in similar esteem.

Next up are Australia’s venerated Cannanes. I’m curious as to what the stage is going to look like since there are so many members and the Bunk stage is a decidedly small one. Not surprisingly, at times some members of the band wind up playing from the side of the stage.

It looks like they are using one of the bar chairs as a keyboard chair. This is nothing short of charming, and captures the makeshift nature of being on the road with a small budget thousands of miles from home.

The first song is preceded by a joking intro about slagging an Aussie band and how they’re not mentioning the name; it’s the only song I don’t recognize and according to the setlist is called “Magic Bell”. It begins with just the guitarist and singer on stage, who takes a long, hose-like object with an open mouth and swings it above her head to catch the air and make a curious sound which really imbues the song with a unique, off-the-cuff feel that will pervade the rest of the set.

Cannanes opener

After the opening song, the full band take the stage and ease into “Countryside” from 2013’s “Howling at all Hours” album.

Next up is “Hit the Wall”, the most recently-released song of the set, from the October 2013 7″ of the same name on Stu Anderson’s and Jen Turrell’s excellent Emotional Response label.

This leads in to the pleasantly melancholic “Strange Memories” on 1994’s “Short Poppy Syndrome”. This song comfortably features two types of trumpets, which blend somewhat seamlessly into the music, which is no small feat for a band playing music in any kind of rock paradigm.

Their song, “America” (from the excellent and long out-of-print tape “Your Cassette Pet” — no relation to the Bow Wow Wow ep of the same name — on Stu Boyracer’s excellent 555 Recordings label) had a big sweeping build reminiscent of the vast plains of the flyover parts of the country that the song is named for.

The introduction to the next song  was wonderfully self-effacing. “This next one is about playing in a band. It’s called “It’s Hopeless”. The song is from the semi ominously-titled “Trouble Seemed So Far Away” they did with Explosion Robinson in 2002. A flute and an electronic keyboard element meld together to somehow create a result that somehow sounds more Brit Pop-meets-Stereolab than New Agey; the latter being a rational fear any person should have when faced with the possibility of those instruments being used in a song together. So a song that could be a wreck winds up instead being one of the highlights of this excellent set.

They follow this up with “Population of Two” on 2000’s “Living the Dream”. This might be the most interesting Cannanes song, since it seems to cover so much ground in such little time. The song fluctuates from moody and accusatory to gently triumphant; hopeful and mournful all at the same time, without resorting to drama or exaggeration to make conflicted emotional points. It’s a mature sound, without being either boring or maudlin.

From the same album, “Fuzzy at the Tip” is what they launch into next, picking up the pace a bit. This song also brings the flute back for a brief-but-welcome appearance.

Next up was “You Name It” from that “Trouble Seemed So Far Away” with Explosion Robinson album. This track kicks off with an almost hip-hop beat that is joined by a brooding synth line. It’s a toss up as to which Cannanes song is is my favorite: this one or the one that followed: the set closer “Melting Moments” from “Howling At All Hours”. This is just really good, punchy pop, with a slightly dark edge that heightens the contrast of the sweet vocals and harmonies.

Their onstage dialog is glib and fun, poking like fun at the crowd at times (i.e., pointing to one side of the room and saying, “this is the hipster side” and waving to them).

Cannanes

It was a great night for indiepop at Bunk Bar; an all-too-rare occurrence cherished in good company.

-Feck

 

1: The exemplar track on the C-86 cassette that gave the genre its title, the song begins with a fluttering chord strike that feels akin to Piccasso’s Rimbaud where the sharpening on paper of the pencil in order to get the correct point for the drawing is worked into the work itself. This solitary thin and trembling chord is a fitting overture, parallel in its brevity to the fleeting nature of the song itself, thrust into the world with a tender yet urgent, slightly askew jangle, building to a crescendo of a chorus that soars so high it can not be brought back to earth by a second verse, but must expend itself in the process of coming into being — it is a mayfly, a firecracker, a Rimbaud, a Lautréamont, a Thomas Chatterton, Anne Sexton, Plath; a fragile and short-lived articulation in a genre united in its dedication to celebrating the ephemeral, (as evinced by Sarah Records’ “A Day For Destroying Things” advert) and emblematic of the genre, it is a song that is essentially its own reference point, even if the constituent parts all have a historical antecedent.

Fine Pets, Landlines and Memory Boys at Valentines AND The Rotties, Boy Funk and Havania Whaal at Tube, July 24, 2013

A warm night out in Portland, the day1 after the full moon, and with the heat upon us, the nightlife has been LIVELY, even on otherwise dullish early-in-the-week weekdays.  Among other things, the Rigsketball 2nd round/ 8 band show was happening at Holocene this evening.  While I like the bands playing (especially Wooden Indian Burial Ground, who you’ve perhaps heard1 me talk1 about elsewhere in these pages) there was just too much going on this night for me to make it there to see those larger bands.

I began the night at Habesha2, where a promising line-up of four bands I never heard of before awaited me. There was a large crowd– as big of one as I’ve seen at Habesha– amassed outside on the spacious rooftop patio that one must walk by to enter.  A can of Ribbon later & it was close to 10 and the first band was still just setting up.  I was curious and wanted to stick around, but after missing Haste the previous night3, I wasn’t willing to take any chances, and headed over to Valentine’s, my favorite venue in Portland, planing to bounce between there and the good ol’ Tube, since there were some bands playing that I was legitimately excited about.

First up at Velentine’s was Memory Boys, a 3 piece, with a guy on an SG, another on the trap kit & and a gal alternating between keys/fiddle in addition to some vocals. Her synth is a tiny Casio propped up on a stand that seems artificially grandiose in comparison to the wee keyboard.
Memory Boys
Songs are low key but build up to janky crescendos, reminiscent of Pavement’s more shambling moments (& I mean that complimentary; I think Pavement’s finest moments are their most shambolic– hell, my favorite genre of music is often called “Shambling”). Perhaps it’s the looseness of the guitar or the trashcan-y-ness of the cymbal, but this group evokes a lo-fi charisma that I find appealing, even if one or two of the songs do go on a bit longer than necessary.

Next, across the street to Tube to catch Havania Whaal, a 3 piece playing poppy post-punk. The drummer is also the lead singer of a dark-tinged new wave band called Smoke Rings, that flirts with some of the best parts of Goth while avoiding all of the worst. Very energetic live show. Actually, I could be speaking about either Smoke Rings or Havania Whaal with that last description. Havania Whaal is more noisey and more poppy without being explicitly NoisePop.
Havania Whaal
Good, solid songwriting executed well, with great use of effects without devolving into hiding behind them. Really, this band is everything I want in a garage power pop band– though I’m curious as if my state of mind plays any part in thinking that, as I seem to have gotten a contact high from walking all of two blocks, past all the street kids smoking weed & the acrid smell of bacon cooking as VooDoo Donuts cook up some of their signature offerings (Yo, seriously, Blue Star Donuts like WHOA. VD is greasy kid stuff. Bourbon Basil Blueberry? Sign me up NOW.) No, it’s not the contact high; Havania Whaal are just that good.

Back to Valentine’s and next up is Landlines, a traditional 3 piece with a Tele, bass & drum kit, set up like a 1950s jazz kit. There’s no jazz here, but a lot of high energy old-style garage.
Landlines
Not too big on effects, just straight ahead proto-garage power pop & I’m loving it. Second-to-last song had a cool kind of Neil Young guitar counter rhythm thing that I really enjoyed. Last song opened with a big bass line that stole the song in a pretty rad way. One could tell that they are all strong musicians with various little playing flourishes, yet they displayed that rarest of musical qualities: restraint, since all of the flair was in service of the song, rather than a vehicle for showmanship. A very solid set.

The next act at the Tube was Boy Funk, a queer hip-hop artist, that was putting all of hir heart into some rhymes about getting high. Even though I frankly wasn’t in the mood for hip-hop (and it’s rare that I am, lately) I could still appreciate what Boy Funk was doing. The artist was very unique, all the way from beats to flow down to the wonderfully outlandish get-up, standing well over 6 & a half feet tall, w/ some Frankenstein platform boots & a Speedo. It’s always exciting to see someone stand genre tropes on their head, especially in as socially constrictive of a genre as hip-hop– although the manifold sung praises to weed did share some space with mainstream rap. It was a good and supportive crowd, too, which was really nice to see, especially in a part of downtown that has a reputation for being a destination for a rather closed-minded suburban set. But the Tube is often a breath of fresh air from the downtown bronados. You might say with Dixie & Dirty and The Barrel Room all a stone’s throw, Tube is the artsy eye of the Broicane.

Back to Valentine’s for the last band there: Fine Pets, a 4 piece with a guy on a hollow body Gretch-type, another gent on an SG & a gal on bass & a hard hitting drummer to round it all out.
Fine Pets
Raw and super noisey, great effects with a layer of jangle underneath, I heard a bit of Sonic Youth & Sebadoh meets Boyracer, with noise, heaviness and pop sensability all at once with occasional forrays into drone. Best band of the night, (though Havania Whaal is a close second) and completely reinvigorated me. The third-to-last song was really THE HIGHLIGHT of a really great set; a song called “Come Amphibious”. It had a bit of a Cure feel to it meets the very best and scary part of Exit, with strong basslines that built to an explosive crescendo. Really, this was a very exciting band to hear & I’m quite glad I caught them.

Last band at Tube is a four piece, The Rotties, who offer a dark power-pop meets punk with a bit of 1970s Stoner Metal thrown in as well.
The Rotties
Solid playing from the guitarist/backing vocalist, whose Telecaster playing both created the fullness of the songs and added nuance; rhythm and lead all at once.  The bassist had some frantic, intricate yet grooving lines & the drummer was a whirl of energy, but it was really all about the lead singer, whose forceful voice reminiscent of Cherie Currie coupled with a wildy charismatic stage presence, brought a bit of a stadium feel to the small room.  With tambourine playing so forceful, it almost felt like a weapon instead of an instrument.

A heavier-than-expected capstone to a long evening of good local music.

-Michael Feck

 

 

1: “Day” when meaning night, “heard” when trying to communicate “read”, “talk” when being on about “write”; I swear, this weather has just broken me. Never had a bad winter, never had a good summer. I really do need to feck off to Ireland or the UK. One day I bloody well will.

2: A pretty surprising place for a venue, since it’s an Ethiopian restaurant that makes near no mention of the fact that it hosts shows, and in a layout that’s far from naturally suited to such a thing. Some of the best small shows take place at this venue, as well as the Langano Lounge underneath Jarra’s Ethiopian restaurant. Seriously, what is it with Ethiopian restaurants and awesome music events in this city? Not sure, but I love it!

3: I thought they were headlining and shows usually do get started at Valentines later than most shows in Portland– yet another thing endearing that venue to me. T’was a very quick night that night. 3 acts, all done by 11:30. Very glad I got to catch Nora something-or-other. Never got her last name, but enjoyed her set rather immensely. A singer/songwriting writing solo noise-fuzz songs on her Gibson, with a lovely voice containing all of the best parts of Joanna Newsome’s voice without any of the worst. Her airy voice really served as a nice foil for the rougher fuzz textures & made for a wonderfully raw yet sedate moment amid the backdrop of the bustling downtown alleyway.

Youth Lagoon and Swahili at Wonder Ballroom 5/22/13

A dark and rainy Wednesday, full of the frustrated expectations of many a Portlander who had thought that Nature had relented precociously and yielded to the bluster of summer, hot on the heels of several 80 degree+ days in early May,  No, to the great dismay of most (and to the secret joy of your humble narrator, who prefers to listen to his Dufflecoat Records in Dufflecoat Weather), it was the constant downpour– large enough to be audible on my roof while in my bed at night– that provided the backdrop to this eventful day when Youth Lagoon also played the Wonder Ballroom.

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The show began with Swahili1. A very cool and poised opener, with a big sound. This five piece explores a churning psychedelia with a decided pop refinement that belies the reverby rawness found in their recordings, which alternate from sedate psychey musings to hyper-rhythmic drum-lead whirlpools of sonic tumult, suggesting ego-death and subsumption into some sort of collective expression of movement.

In short, the perfect soundtrack for a first year Anthro student to read Durkheim to.  A good opener for Youth Lagoon as well, setting the stage for the experience of the polished-yet-unfamiliar.

The lights of the stage turn a dreamy shade of indigo, affecting the feel of the moon at midnight viewed from behind the shimmering prism of a waterfall.  Trevor leads his group onstage to the cheers of a crowd whose enthusiasm is triple the size of their number, which is not actually a bad one, considering the wonderfully dreary weather outside and the fact that the show is on a Wednesday. The intensity of the lighting, the excitement in the room and the otherworldly feel of the music all conspire to create that feeling like a drug coming on.  I suspect that for many in the room, my analogy is no mere rhetorical exercise.

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It must be mentioned that Trevor affects the energy of a Jim Henson creation. He kinda has a puppet-y voice as well, which just lends itself naturally to the kind of ethereal space the music inhabits (I typoed “inHobbits”). It’s as if these songs are meant to be heard outdoors, surrounded by tall trees next to a sparkling body of water, like say a river…or stream. A brook? (Ok, fine. I’ll stop.) Don’t ya just love it, though when a band is just perfectly named? I mean some bands tell you nothing about what they are like in the name. (“The Smiths”, anyone?) And then others will just out-and-out lie to you, which is why I was dreadfully afraid to give a band called Acid House Kings a chance, until something awoke the slumbering summer in me and I discovered that they’re only about the BEST THING EVER IN THE HISTORY OF EVER, and have *nothing* at all to do with “Acid House” (which is also a genre I’ve warmed to).

Then there are other bands, like “Black Sabbath” or “Slayer”; I mean even if you just got evicted from underneath that rock you’d been receiving your mail at (SHIT I TOLD THAT FECKIN’ BANK TO ONLY SEND ME E-MAIL STATEMENTS. Srsly, planet’s not gonna save itself.) you’d still know exactly what these bands sounded like. Pearl Jam, though? You’d think it’s by hippies for hippies. And a band named Pavement should sound like the Jesus Lizard, or at least be on Touch & Go records. But Save Ferris? Sounds kinda like you imagine a 90s ska band named after a John Hughes movie should. Tricky?  Yes, well he is, isn’t he? Five For Fighting? NO! With a name like that, he should bloody well sound like Gang Green, not Jack bleedin’ Johnson.  (and *no one* should ever sound like Jack Johnson, even– & especially– Jack Johnson) But Beach Fossils? Yup: surf pop with some kind of sonic relic. Tennis? Yes. Sunny Day Real Estate? Yeah, but only because of irony. Tool?  Too perfectly named. Shit, that’s a fun exercise for another post: breaking down bands by what you expect them to sound like & what they actually do.  Any suggestions? Get at me in the comments.

Back to the show, Youth Lagoon drift pretty comfortably from quietly dripping crystalline reflections, to upbeat and nearly Polka-y jaunts across Eastern Europe on Molly. Ably backed by the drums, bass & a guy on a strat, the energy is all with Trevor, as he alternates between a forward facing synth, and two synths stacked on top of each other facing stage right, the lowest of which he occasionally kneels to reach and coax more feel from. Some of these songs veer into more indie rock directions, but are coaxed back from the more angular edges by dreampop smoothness.  Many of the later songs dip into quieter territory, nearly abutting the synth ballad, but always with a fantastical edge to it, as if this were music drawn by a hypothetical non-creepy Boris Vallejo were he to be more interested with fantasy natural scenes with flora and fauna instead of Heavy Metal-esque nudes and Conan the Barbarian stuff.

2013-05-22 22.01.30

What’s really exciting about Youth Lagoon is the way that these plinky and trembling slow dream sounds build up a head of steam like a tiny pebble that is rolled down a snowy hill in a Bugs Bunny cartoon that then becomes a giant snow boulder.  Both the song that they closed the set with and the encore (which I think was “Dropla”) really transformed from humble beginnings into booming crescendos, fit for a benediction, as if to say “now, run out joyfully into the world with this delicate and beautiful knowledge, hold it firmly enough not to lose yet loose enough to grow.  Let your growth be strange, and the strange will surprise you as it transforms in front of your very eyes into beauty.”

Ok, maybe I got a contact high.  Whatever it was, something beautiful happens when you let yourself go at a Youth Lagoon show and just give over to the curious suggestions of the music, and allow yourself to feel as if you’re a 5-year-old kid exploring a cave of fluorescent and incandescent multi-colored crystals.  The rain that came that night was unrelenting, but the dreams were beyond description.

-Michael Feck

 

 

1:  I won’t lie, the name (as you can probably imagine) is a little worrisome to me, seeing as it reeks of misappropriation and fetishisation.  That Swahilil is a go-to language that people employ when trying to explain impermeable otherness doesn’t make that any less problematic; in fact it is precisely these tropes that are so cliched they stand-in as shortcuts for actual thought that we must examine the closest, since they are seemingly the most invisible.

Bleached, Ex-Cops, Big Eyes and Guantanamo Baywatch at The Star Theater, 5/3/13

Ever have one of those nights that just starts out good and just keeps getting better till somewhere along the line something makes you take a step back?  You catch yourself looking around the room, taking in where you are and suddenly realize that you’re grinning wildly;  something makes you realize that somehow the night went from “good” to “great” and all without fanfare; without a single particular incident crystallizing it, but just everything conspiring together to make something awesome; to make the night into that thing that makes it memorable. It seems like you never quite know why, but you’ve got some good ideas.

Or maybe you do know why.  Like tonight.  Seriously, “Bleached” is all I need to say to know that I’m in for something truly amazing. Four bands total, and it started off *feckin’ awesome* and only got better from there.  But there’s something beyond the music, something ineffable that elevated this night into that rare space. Maybe the “why” will reveal itself in the details…

First show I’ve been to at the Star in a very long time1.  It actually started off a bit oddly, since I thought that the lads in beloved group Week of Wonders2 were playing tonight. Apparently, I had mistaken this eve with a previous one in Seattle, so I wasn’t on the list.  Fine.  Bleached are so damn awesome, I’ve got no problem at all shelling out some green to see ’em.  Just means the night started out a little unexpected.  There is always an element of the unexpected to those great nights…but that’s not what it is that made this one great.

I feel like a bit of a rubbish Portlander, since this is actually the first time I’ve seen the seemingly omnipresent Guantanamo Baywatch live. I’ve got tapes of theirs, (well, one tape) but not till now have I seen ’em. A standard three piece, playing surf-pop-punk-party music fit for dreaming about a beachside “Toxic Avenger” screening/kegger while stuck in class. Makes me wanna thumb my nose at my math teacher after drawing a sloppy comic panel on my half-finished HW & go ditch 3rd period to go smoke while calling things “boss” or “kookie”. Their stage presence is verbally reserved, but they explode into frantic movement with their set. The couple of times they do speak up (just the singer/guitarist, actually) it’s quite hilarious.

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“Hey, we’re just the 1st band, what does it matter? Were not even that drunk yet.” Perfect band for a zombie prom, they write tight yet technically-proficient upbeat ditties that never stick around too long to wear out their welcome. There’s something vaguely 1950s comic book about them, or maybe even 1980’s re-imagining of what a 1950s comic book would be like, a trait they share with all-around PDX fun time band Mean Jeans.

Next band up is another three-piece, Big Eyes, from Seattle & they put the power in power pop.  The singer/guitarist is in possession of such a strong voice that it seemed to anchor the music just as much as the drums.  Instantly catchy and memorable upon first listen.

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Big Eyes with big hooks, making music that’s dirty, raw and catchy. A bad recipe for sushi, but a brilliant one for rock.

Next up are Ex Cops from Brooklyn, although the keyboard player, Amalie Bruun (formerly of Captured Tracks band, “Minks“) is from Denmark. I didn’t find this last bit of information out until a few songs in & it was both surprising & not-at-all surprising. Surprising, because she spoke without any super-discernible accent; not-surprising in that Ex Cops have a very decidedly Scandinavian indiepop sound for a NY band (unlike the Real Estate or Beach House kind of sound that pops into my head when you say “East Coast indiepop”).

Led by the songwriting of Bruun and Brian Harding (of Hymns), they really showcase that characteristically Nordic sweet & super-polished dreampop in performance, yet without being glitzy or premeditated, in a way that’s brilliantly demonstrated by Acid House Kings or Burning Hearts or The Garlands or the band that is my pick for the blockbuster indiepop band of summer 2013: Alpaca Sports. I mean, the Scandinavian sound is just so earnestly sweet & yet so effortlessly together, the songs sound as if they have existed forever, and were mined like diamonds from the recesses of the earth, instead of written by humans.  Really, Swedish indiepop could run a marathon without breaking a sweat or ever looking like they were trying too hard & still win.  For their amazingly polished-but-present sound, Ex Cops should get honorary lifetime membership to the Swedish indiepop club.

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It was sorta strange how the room just cleared out entirely in between each band’s set, but makes sense, I guess with the first grips of the really warm season being precociously upon us here in Portland, and how those wild summer nights spent outdoors with a cold drink and warm company are the shining moments to remember and the reward for enduring the sweat-soaked vicissitudes of the day and its many demands.  That crisp breeze from out of nowhere, cutting the still, summer air; the crackle of the log on the firepit; the bright, cold taste lingering on your tongue from the bubbly IPA and laughter as effortless as the smoke rising from your friends’ fingertips: these are the moments to be kept and carried from those easy summer nights, where everything seems blissfully transitory, and for a moment, no interaction has any weight.

After two rowdy, fun-time party bands, the room didn’t initially know what to make of this more reserved and deliberate bedroom pop fivepiece and their clean, refined sound.  As the band went on, people continued to wander back in as Ex Cops launched into their set. There was a bit of head nodding, but this wasn’t music to spazz-out to with wild abandon, like the first two bands were.  For a few moments, there was actually a bit of head-scratching.  And this may have been the unexpected highlight of the night for me: to have watched a band work to win over a crowd, and to watch a crowd learn and respond in grand fashion.  They had me about 6 seconds in to the first song, but you all know how I wear my indiepop heart on my sleeve.  This crowd was a lot punkier (as testified by everyone in the crowd enthusiastically singing along to Bleached’s cover of The Misfits’ “Hatebreeders” later in the set), but by two songs in, a few were moving pretty visibly & at five in, the entire room was dancing in earnest.  It’s been a little bit since I’ve seen a band just out-and-out win over a crowd that clearly hadn’t heard them before.

They dedicated a song that talks about birthdays to Shannon, who is Bleached’s tour manager. There was also a pretty funny bit when Brian looked at a drink on the floor of the venerable and beaten-up stage, “Hey, someone get a coaster for this super swank wood.” A few minutes later, someone in the crowd walked up to the stage with a rather histrionically sheepish look and grabbed the drink, shoulder shrugged an apology and returned to the back.  It was such a charmingly comic reaction that I was left wondering if she was playing it up “in character” for laughs or if she actually felt a bit embarrassed.

As moody and sedate as some of their songs were, you could see them power through the two harder ones…especially the closer, which had a real lift and drive to it. They picked a good one to end on, and really showed a diversity of sound that has me very curious to see what comes next from this very talented group.

I’d seen Bleached a mere year ago at the Doug Fir, at a relatively sparsely attended show, opening for Veronica Falls.  What a difference a year makes! Veronica Falls, played the same room to a capacity crowd this March, and now Bleached is here filling out the rather spacious Star Theater, with a real buzz all their own, instead of some of the residual ash of high regard from their near-legendary previous incarnation as noise punk group Mika Miko

Before Bleached went on, after all the gear was set up & soundchecked, you could hear everyone singing happy birthday to Shannon, in the outside backstage patio area before the show. The band took the stage, all comfortable smiles and energy.  The drummer had broken his foot earlier on the tour (Vegas, I think he mentioned?) and was only a few days out of his cast, but you’d never know it from how the drums sounded.  Jennifer was pretty conversational as they opened with “Waiting By The Telephone” off of the “Ride Your Heart” album they’re touring on, prefacing things with a palpable expression of joy.  “Hey, so we all just got the best surprise: our very best friend from LA is here.  Black Chris!  I can’t tell you how glad we are to see him.” The crowd caught the infectious enthusiasm from the Clavins et al and started up a chant of “Black Chris, Black Chris”3 to Chris and the band’s visible pleasure.

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Things really kicked into an extra gear when “Searching Through The Past” showed up 4 songs into the set, followed up by a frenetic “Think of You” from their Carter 7″.  Jennifer invited the crowd to join her at Sassy’s after the gig, after telling us she got kicked out of Magic Gardens last time she was in town, but demurred on recounting the events that led to it. Then they brought out Chris to help them sing a cover of the Misfits “Hatebreeders”, which made me realize that I like the Misfits better when Bleached are playing them and I *love* the Misfits.

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The energy the band brought was palpable. “Thanks so much for dancing!  You all are dancing!” Jennifer offered incredulously.  Pretty big because crowds just don’t dance at shows in Portland, unless they are specifically dance shows and sometimes even then…no.  But everyone in the room was swept up in that bouncy feeling of joy you get when that last bell in June rings, and you run out the door, throwing the dull textbook in the trash on your way out to the parking lot, where all your friends are smoking and the car doors are all slung wide open; right there where the strains of Bleached are pouring out of those car speakers, right there where life is happening too fast to pay attention to fully, and you’re having too much fun to care, right there in that place; the intersection of Where You Want To Be and Where You Are Now, and you don’t stop to notice because you don’t care, you just want the wind in your hair and whatever it is that comes next.

Somewhere in the night “good” became “great”. Bleached really are the kind of band that will do that to you. Their pop hooks are cut with such power, with lyrics full of freedom and longing all at the same time, delivered in a way that is somehow both badass and vulnerable, like the way film geeks talk about Brando in “The Wild One”. Bleached are that gin and tonic you take your first sip of and all your friends take note of your peculiar grin, point and laugh, saying “you’re drunk!” even though it’s your first sip. I’ll gladly have another.

-Michael Feck

 

 

 

1: Caught Hazel & Moon Duo there & just missed PoBPaH (though caught them earlier in the day at a surprise show at the Doug.  Got to catch up with Kip, too, which was great because I hadn’t really seen him since a critical theory class we had together freshman year. I feel like I’ve lived a thousand lives since that time. I’ll bet he’s lived even more.)

2: Keep your eyes peeled to these pages for a long forthcoming review of this dearly beloved group of incredibly talented musicians. I think so highly of these lads and that insanely-catchy type of manic poly-rhythmic beach pop that sounds like Dr. Who showed up at Orca Team’s house with a bag of Molly & then threw everyone into the Tardis to take them to Cancun circa 1962, that I get a bit tongue tied when trying to translate these feelings into words. Soon enough, though; either a much need break in work responsibilities or a late night with a whiskey window ought to give me some time to get caught up there.

3: I’ll not lie, it made me very uncomfortable to hear a crowd of mostly white Portlanders chanting “Black Chris”. People do get to decide whatever it is they want to be calledA and I’m sure there are a lot of people named Chris; that said, there’s something that doesn’t sit well with me about using race as a means of differentiation, as if to imply that blackness is somehow aberrant from the “default” status or is odd in some way (e.g., “Chris” vs. “Black Chris”).B

A: Even though sometimes these things get decided by other people; for example, people often call me by my real last name and I detest it greatly, but it’s just too much effort to get people to stop & I don’t want to ruin the tone of an evening by going out of my way to correct someone every time they refer to me by my last name, and that’s with something that’s not even weighed down by concerns that are made more complex because of race. You might say that I am responsible for what people call me, and that’s true, but to pretend that there is not a social order that one risks upsetting for results that may occasionally be murky seems hard to ignore.

B: I just put a footnote inside of a footnote…how bloody pretentious is that?

Two Shows, Two Nights, One Review: Fuzz and Wooden Indian Burial Ground at Bunk Bar 3/30/13 & Genders and Wooden Indian Burial Ground at Rontoms 3/31/13

Two shows into one review, you know how we do.

So, since I got there predictably late, (NO IT’S NOT A RUNNING FECKIN’ THING; YOU’RE A FECKIN’ RUNNING FECKIN’ THING!…Ok, fine, it *is* a running feckin’ thing) having not realized that I was even gonna go to this show until around 10:30 & rolling up around 10:45. Forgot my plugs & ran out to get some backups & still made the show. Cool story, right?  “Nerd Goes To Concert. Forgets Pocket Protector”.  Why is the Onion still not returning any of my calls?  Oh yeah, because who in the hell calls anymore?  What is it, 2001?  Are people paying attention to The Strokes again or something?

So, I missed (SHUT IT!) the well-raved about Wooden Indian Burial Ground, but since I was gonna catch them the very next day at the Rontoms free show with the much-ballyhooed-by-yours-truly– & everyone else for that matter, Genders…now you know how two become one. (And we’ve filled our daily quota for Spice Girls songs. Win!)

I’m heading back through the doors just as Fuzz kicks into their first song. Ty’s on drums tonight, in this incarnation of one of his 15 bands (SRSLY, dude is like the son from the ‘Hey Mon’ skit off of ‘In Living Color’:
“Lazy son. You only have 1 job!”
“Yeah, but I & I be playin’ in 10 bands, mon!”…or something like that.1

I can only imagine what my life would look like now had I been half as busy doing *anything* at 24…drinking too much & being arrogant about it doesn’t count.

As expected, it’s great and dark garage.  The crowd builds a frantic pit and one person even crowdsurfs & is actually up for most of the song.  The 2010’s remembering the 60s in a decidedly 90s way.

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We’re rabid for more, but these guys play everything they know.  They close with a cover & despite the crowd’s desperate pleading, they’ve just plain run-out of songs that they all know.

The show’s over and some guy walking by with dreads shout-says “anyone else’s shit all fucked up? Shit’s all got fucked up!” to no one in particular, holding on to a Fuzz 7″. Garage. Shit’s real.

So, Genders put together about as big a crowd as I’ve seen indoors at a Sunday Rontoms show, telling me that either the OPB free show tour kick-off at Mississippi Studios made a lot of new, true believers, or else the word is just out and now everyone is hip to the fact that Genders is the Portland band of 2013.

Maybe this is gonna seem silly, but somehow Genders seemed comparatively sedate from their tour, a bit…world weary, even. Can you really say that about a band that hasn’t even been together for a whole year?  They still sounded amazing, but there was a mature polish this show that seemed a bit at odds with the wild-eyed enthusiasm I’m used to seeing from them.

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(Gratuitous “artsy” if-this-looks-in-focus-you’ve-had-the-right-amount-to-drink pick.)

And then, Wooden Indian Burial Ground are on.  And I mean that in every way.

It’s noisy, dark & garage experimental with some keyboard skronk produced from a box of effects dating back to the very era the music is hoping to evoke, like sci-fi soundtrack zonk zam wow (Batman Sound Effects is go!), like surfing high on acid in cartoon hell with the wind of the dark side of the 1950s, like a nuclear flash melting the pomade right on out of your slicked hair, be you Bettie Page or dark-side Fonzi. Roll that pack of Marlboro reds up on the sleeve of your white T & let the thick reverb wall of wah-ed out guitar, driving drumbeat & rolling bass take you to the atmospheric place suggested by the heavily effects-ladden vocals.

It’s DARK in here. Truly “freak out” rock. I can see someone calling this psychedelia, but I think that would be a misleading tag for this trio. Like a Ludacris song or a bad car movie, this band is just 2 Fast, 2 Furious.2

-Michael Feck

1:  I didn’t even bother watching the link myself, because I’m really BUSY and IMPORTANT, he said, rearranging his record collection for the thousandth time instead of doing anything real.  C’mon, *don’t* pretend you haven’t been there, too.  And yes, itunes library management counts, too if you’re more nomadically inclined.  To tell the truth, I’m also a little afraid that the skit that I grew up watching may also be racially insensitive, and that’s not mitigated by the fact that it’s a group of African-Americans poking fun at some Jamaican-American stereotypes, which, while being so-called positive stereotypes, which is a big problem in-and-of itself. In addition, I don’t actually think it’s a “positive”, since the message of “just work hard like a Horatio Alger story and you’ll get everything you want” is poisonous capitalist apology of the highest order. People are *not* poor because they are not working hard enough; we have an economic structure in place where accumulation of wealth is *not* a direct function of labor, and very often those who have the least are those who are working the hardest, (not to diminish the experience of anyone else). This is why I haven’t just excised the clip altogether; because I think there’s a valuable message about work and exploitation and the clip displays this antagonism, since it begs the question, “If everyone in the family has 10 jobs, why are you still living in squalor?”, which leads to the opening answer, “because of an intersection of race, class and gender, limiting opportunities in a way that’s invisible to people who occupy positions of privilege”.  I do think it does that, even though I’m still a bit uncomfortable about the way in which it is articulated.

I know, I’m getting tedious.  Am I reading too much into a sketch?  I don’t think it’s possible; I think we all in general (myself included) tend to not read *enough* into these seemingly ephemeral artifacts of culture… But you’re here for music, right? All I want to do is be Clare Wadd and Matt Haynes all in one; is that so wrong?

2: That gag’s for you, Collision, if you’re watching…

San Cisco, Chaos Chaos at The Doug Fir, April 1 (For reals, though)

The weather has turned here in Portland; this past Saturday was the first real day of spring.   A palpable thaw seems to have wound its way through the city; through alleys, past  parks and backyards of old craftsman-style houses, past the sounds of goats bleating, chickens clucking, and the would-be prey of stalking cats, be they bird or rodent loudly forcing their way through new and tall brush amid the backdrop of deciduous trees still barren, save for the oft-instagramed cherry blossoms erupting their way throughout the city; these streets no longer stung with the briskness of the evening chill that still flirted coyly with ice, and yet would disappear at the end of the night– all of this fickle caprice finding its way into the steps, into the hearts of us all, and it seems somewhere, in some way, be it overt display or even an unused corridor in the minds of the dour, there is a beach somewhere in all of us. San Cisco is this beach. Or is the music for this beach. Or maybe I had it right the first time, it is this beach. Light, colorful and young, with a breeze implying the slightest hint of gravitas, instead of the flighty and light-hearted image the term “breezy” conjures.

But enough feeble attempts at poetry, there’s a show to talk about. I show up at 10 till & BS outside with Matty & John for a bit before heading inside, eager for a promising Monday night show.

Now for Chaos Chaos…or not. Seriously? I get here at 10:00 & miss the opener? I’m proposing Fecklight Savings Time which means all shows start 1 hour later than they’re listed. Wait, what? NO, WHY DON’T YOU JUST TRY SHOWING UP ON TIME!?!. Oh, wait, you do? Ok, my bad. Still…

So, San Cisco take the stage, all at once, instilling just the faintest air of rock & roll drama. Despite the approachability of the band, there’s just a slight touch of theatricality to them, but not in an obnoxious, pretentious or off-putting way.

Their sound is a light jangle, with two sets of keys, (in addition to the standard two guitars, a bass & drums) each helmed by the bassist & the guitarist.

Really great harmonies. Especially from drummer Scarlett Stevens who provides a driving edge as a foil and counterpoint to the more fey sunny tunes put forth by the stringed instruments and keys.

“Bleach” opens with an indie take on a stadium-styled beat, further echoing that sense of slight theatricality, yet intermingled with an earnestness that showcases the vast expanse between Western Australia and West Los Angeles, where even the most earnest have industry bloodthirst, and anyone with any kind of sense of integrity has long since fled. These are songs that are really meant to be heard over a beach radio in the blaring sun against the backdrop of the surf. If you didn’t know they were Australian, you might suspect it…that or Californian…but there’s the trick, no one from a place can write such yearning music of a place, unless there’s a time anachrony.

(I mean, a band can write a song about San Francisco, but San Francisco won’t come *through* the song unless the song gets picked up as a quasi anthem by the people of San Francisco or some group of people somewhere thinking *about* San Francisco and thus altering the meaning.

Or a group can write a song about San Francisco from San Francisco & have it really be of that, but …this may all be bullshit. Yeah, it is. Really. Just utter tossing nonsense. I’m leaving this in here so you all know that I at least occasionally have the good sense to quit when I’m doing the writing equivalent of talking just to hear the sound of my own voice…Also just realized that this band is probably named for having a laugh at a kid trying to say “San Francisco” and not having it go quite according to plan.)

“Reckless” (“about not being reckless w/ people’s hearts” whoa, what a DAMN GOOD idea) begins with a dream-poppy guitar line than turns a fast corner as the drums kick in and a synth line drives like an undertow through and past the bounding surface feel of the song.

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Almost feels like a steel drum could go comfortably into these songs & make the implicit tropical feel explicit. Yet there’s a sincerity to it all that other groups fetishizing the tropical seem to miss when their work gets diverted into camp. Perhaps this is what I was really trying to get at with my earlier bullshit paragraph: that it really is hard to sincerely just be *of* a thing without in some way *performing* that thing, and that the performance somehow alters the initial thing. The best articulations can only hope to acknowledge their swerve, and by doing so, allow their essence to separate from the camp. Or some quasi-academic bullshit like that.

Everyone leaves the stage save for the lead singer, Jordi, who remains to sing a song called “John’s Song”. It’s a moving paean to friendship with just the slightest hint of Springsteen. Takes real guts to pull this off in a town that’s as chatty as this one is during quiet songs, especially after such danciness preceding. Also, as the band returns, it occurs to me that this was one of the danciest shows I’ve been to in Portland where people WERE ACTUALLY DANCING and it not being explicitly *dance* music. What’s up, Monday night? Nice to see you, too!

The set closer is a song called “Awkward” which may be the sweetest-sounding song ever written about a stalker. In the middle of the song, two young women, dressed in awesomely outlandish indie glam come out and sang & danced with the band with wild exuberance. I’m gonna go out on a limb & guess these were two members of Chaos Chaos & if that’s the case then I *definitely* need to see these guys because that kind of enthusiasm is exactly what I’m drawn to in music. Go ahead and stand at the back of the room and look cool; I wanna hear from the people wearing their hearts on their sleeves and feeling their feelings in a way that’s un-fecking-afraid of what the hell anyone else has to say. It’s not your stoicism or sneering that makes you cool, it’s your enthusiasm. Anyone telling you otherwise is just trying to steal your lollipop & throw it in the sandbox for kicks. Feck ’em.

San Cisco. A late night beach party with new Australian friends, curious, at-ease and approachable. Summer music at the mere harbinger of spring.

Winter 2013 Mix Tape…

So, I’m debating the ethics right now of offering this “tape” (1) for download.

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What seems most intuitive to me is to contact each band in some fashion and ask for permission.  Anything else seems presumptuous in a way that I am just uncomfortable with, personally.  That’s not to say others are wrong in saying, “please contact me if you want anything taken down” and offering downloads till that point.  I know I have most certainly discovered music that was downloaded off of an internet site where I didn’t do the due diligence to make sure that the artist had given permission, but then went out after being blown away and bought some vinyl direct from the artist.  But personally, I feel the most comfortable on my own site with insuring consent every step of the way.

tl;dr?  I think I’m just going to offer a track listing and hopefully inspire you to go out and track down these gems yourself.  Of course, if I’m feeling particularly ambitious & find myself with some of the most scarce resource known to humanity: free time, then I may actually send out some e-mails and see what I can do.  However, this setlist just feels so damn perfect for this winter, that I submit it to you here, this strange vision of a winter’s day in hopes you will grab these songs yourself.

Of course, I find it impossible *not* to offer my pretentious-but-heartfelt quasi-poetic annotations. The story that this imagined day is; the story in between the songs, because of the songs, yet having nothing really to do with the songs..

Due to A) my utter ridiculousness & B) my Joycean infatuation, I submit this to you with suggested drink pairings (I warned you it’d be pretentious!), and time of day where each song falls in my imagination (plus some occasional anachrony where one is reflecting back on a time past or in the future.)

Here’s the drink pairing list and letter code:

C = Coava Coffee Roaster’s Girasoles from Costa Rica (a pleasantly intricate yet easy-to-drink & buttery cup to wake up with!)

L = Homemade Lemonade with Meyer lemons (all sweet, no sour, sorta like the pop songs they go along with) and Pomegranate juice to add a bit of winter into that traditional summer potable.

T = Foxfire Earl Grey with honey and some milk instead of cream, as the Irish take it (dreamy and comforting, yet agitates ever-so-slightly, like a lovers’ arms waking you up as they squeeze you tighter in their sleep; waking you up but making you feel safe all over at the same time.)

B = Blanton’s single-barrel bourbon (vanilla sweetness giving way to late rye spice; bite with sophistication. Rowdy and civilized all at the same time.)

E = Stumptown’s Guatemalan Finca El Injerto Bourbon espresso, balancing chocolate with citrusy brightness and a hint of sweet spice as a finish.  (A great middle of the day pick-me-up: sorta like these corresponding songs)

-Drink Pairing
#Track Number
“Song Name”
^Song Duration 
+Time of Day 
Band Name

-C #01: “Springtime” ^2:53 +7:06 AM The Torn ACLs
Waking up with hope in your heart, knowing that if you keep doing the right thing, that good things are gonna happen. Ready for work, but shaking off the drudgery; looking for the little bit of daylight to catch on your fingertip before the inevitable rains begin anew, and loving them both.

-C #02: “My Heart Is A Drummer” ^3:17 +9:23AM Allo Darlin’
As the day continues to move from a slow but bright-eyed start into that full and real feeling of being awake, thoughts are turning to love & that sense of being both giddy with excitement, yet strong and secure, absent-mindedly toying with a phone cord, giving yourself over to love, but never forgetting or losing yourself…I never liked Graceland, but I *love* the metaphoric Graceland & actually want to go out and get the album just for what it represents. There’s a Graceland inside us all, in that place where the things that you love make you happiest: in that place where your heart is a drummer…(and we’re talking Keith Moon, here)

-C #03: “Please Do Not Lie” ^4:30 +10:03 AM Boa Constrictor vs. Honeydrips
The day has really begun in earnest. You’re aware of where you are raw and where you are polished. You are unafraid and ready to go. Handclaps could be cheering choruses for the lilt in your heart. Things aren’t perfect, but they are good, and this makes them real and sustainable; it makes them great.

-L #04: “Summertime” ^3:13 +11:24 Pocketbooks
It’s the dead of winter, but this song is the memory of a summer breeze in the midst of a sweltering August, without romanticization.  Enjoying the warmth of your cardigan, remembering laughs and the sweet smoke from corn stalks on the BBQ as you all stood on the grass somewhere unforgettable.

-L #05: “Your Way, Mr. Leary” ^1:55 +12:17 PM The Rainyard
Lunch is lively conversation with old friends and some new ones, too. There is talk of the night’s forthcoming adventures.  A catchy hook falls into your ear, whispered like an infectious secret, but then is gone just as quickly.

-C #06: “Philadelphia” ^3:36 +12:31 PM Standard Fare
Some seemingly innocuous glimpse of something unrelated brings your mind back to your beloved and the temporary distance between you. You’ll see that person after work, today…why is work taking *forever*? It bloody well feels like a year!

-L #07: “Fine Day For Sailing” ^2:26 +12:49 PM Go Sailor
That’s it, you’ve decided to cast off the hardships of the day with a breezy smile. Laugh it off with a dance somewhere inside of yourself.  Forgive everything ever done to you with a laugh, but never forget, all the while staying too busy dancing to worry about a damn thing else. Or maybe you’re not there yet, but that’s where you want to be.

-L #08: “This Love Is Not Wrong” ^3:22 +1:05 PM The Field Mice
Let the crowd say whatever they want about you. This feeling you have in your heart, this furnace you carry with you, keeping you warm and causing you to look up with a smile when everyone else is looking down with a bothered sneer, it is a love that is shared, a silent bond that will never ask for nor need the approval of anyone else.

-B #09: “Original Arrogance” ^1:37 +9:40 PM Comet Gain
Finding yourself someplace where you were left, realizing that somehow you’ve gotten over everything that used to hold you back, and burning all those bad memories with the fire of urgency. Onward brazenly to this next new phase with all of the self-assurance you’ve ever needed to do anything you want to do. You’re ready to create, and in big strokes with fast movement. Thinking forward into the night, and that moment where the hope for it meets with what it really is. Some threshold has been crossed, but you’re not yet sure what.

-B #10: “I’m So Unclean” ^2:18 +3:15 PM Evans The Death
Urgency gives way to reverie. You pine for your beloved as you enter your last big push to finish work for the day, having endured and conquered being beset by the (after)noontime demon: Ennui.

-T #11: “Green Eyed” ^2:54 +8:02 PM September Girls
Thinking on the night beginning in earnest and thoughts that echo in your head: moments of cherished time alone, thoughts of being lost in a crowd, thoughts of being alone with your beloved. The future and where that turns from ideal form into what it really is. Pleasant surprises and otherwise. Again, returning to the echo of your thoughts. The night is young, and still, so are you…there is hope in the silent spaces between the noise.

-B #12: “Rip” ^2:27 +7:30 PM Ringo Deathstarr
Somehow, and you’re not sure how or why, things have taken a turn for the strange.  You retreat into comforting thoughts.  You’re not sure if you are lucid dreaming or if reality has taken on a strange shimmer.  You are not worried, but things are not as they were.  You’re not sure if they ever will be again.  Your simple and quietly beautiful life of work and home is transformed into something you don’t recognize…you stride forward into it anyway, casting not a backwards glance.

-B #13: “Do You Think It’ll Snow Tonight?” ^1:28 +6:39 PM The Cat’s Miaow
A quiet wish, noisily uttered? A noise-y wish, quietly uttered? From the flurry inside to the possible one out…maybe tonight is best spent by the fireplace.

-E #14: “You Make Two Weeks Two Days” ^2:47 +5:30 PM Baffin Island
Thinking forward to the commute home. Warm thoughts of returning to your beloved. How can time escape so quickly when life is so glorious now? How did it trudge along like an ancient horse on a tenderfoot’s trail-ride when times were sour? The comfort of the company is enough to sustain the irrevocable velocity of wonderful moments rendered perfect by their second glance. Toiling in the diamond mine of memory never works up a sweat.

-E #15: “Your New Boyfriend” ^1:49 +4:43 PM Rocketship
Back to where you are. The darkest times are rendered manageable by the sonic-honey rimming the medicine cup of hardship’s medicine. Yesterday’s scars give today’s hugs meaning and perspective.  You love like you used to.  You love like new.

-E #16: “Folded In Half” ^3:36 +5:15 PM The Bank Holidays
Harmony steps into your life as you put your day away and prepare for what comes next. Your thoughts escape up the spiral staircase until you are on top of the bus, watching the world from a newly-caught perspective. On your way home, only to leave it again, only to return. Love is the anchor that still lets the boat keep moving, but never too far from what matters.

-L #17: “Infatuation Street” ^3:17 +2:45 PM Sweater Girls
Loveletters written on paper folded and burned as a floating wish into the sky, hoping only to be forgotten as they turn to ash.  The weather on your face as the leaves have turned, the comforting scratch of wool against your skin.

-L #18: “Sea Horses” ^2:55 +5:01 PM Blueboy
Life is more beautiful and more complicated than anyone had imagined.

-B #19: “Your Doubting Heart” ^3:15 +10:15 PM The Hobbes Fanclub
You want to cry. Your beloved is lost.  You know not where or how. Your memories are all dreams; your dreams are all memories. Jonas had an easier go of it than this sudden nightmare you have woken into. Everything has changed. Only Lethe notes register in your unbelieving ears.  The music pulls you forward when you find your will lacking.

-B #20: “You Can Hide Your Love Forever” ^3:43 +10:15 AM Comet Gain
Back to the morning; those burned wishes are not forgotten; they mature into these feelings that are as mundane yet comforting as your morning Orange Juice. Your desires will carry you when nothing else will. Dreams of a France or Scotland you’ve never seen, the friends in literature you’ve made, those words that have never been said that you always wanted…the home in that person’s eyes. You can find the song when you can’t find the words.

-B #21: “English Cities” ^2:04 +10:44 PM Brilliant Colors
Pushing over smokestacks, past thoughtlessly brilliant interactions to the place where everyone is gathered. Stumbling through, you would rue your current state, wide awake fearing all is lost, were it not for the chaos of noise you have somehow scrolled above, to where you can see the pattern from a distance. You know not where your beloved is, but you enter the room where all your new friends are. Nightmares are raindrops that fall off of your slicker into puddles in the street you do not stop to consider.

-B #22: “You’re Beautiful” ^1:06 +11:09 PM The Faintest Ideas
Running up the flights of stairs into the room where they all are; you throw open the door, boldly declaring what you know, the beauty that’s pushing its way out of your chest, effortlessly, as if from someone else, but it is *you*, it is the essence of you, but you don’t wait for a reaction, you’ve turned around and are bounding out the door, down the steps before anyone’s had a word.  You don’t care what they think; that’s for them to decide.  You wanted only for them to know.

-B #23: “For Ex-Lovers Only” ^2:35 +12:58 AM Black Tambourine
Wandering rocks. The reaction that could have been, instead of the Scylla & Charybdis you have chosen . The fear at the end of the night. The wrong “what if” suddenly become real for a moment. A nightmare Baudelaire prose poem. A Berlioz vision of paregoric delusion. Your beloved warps before you, turning into a manifestation of all of one’s own insecurities, pointing a silent accusatory finger, questioning your own capacity to be loved. You slam the door on the fears, letting everyone else be who they are.  Let anyone walk away without a second thought, even if it does cost a tear.

-T #24: “Poor Students Dream of Marx” ^3:12 +7:01 PM Cats on Fire
The world shudders awake with the slam of that door. You are in your own skin, seeing the world as it really is.  The myths flee from your mind like smoke from a chimney.  Seemingly impoverished by materialism, you’ve actually made the grade. You are alone, having put all of those insecurities to bed. Others show up, ask you questions. You glibly dismiss them.  You will not be distracted again.

-T #25: “You Can Have What You Want” ^2:52 +1:10 AM Papercuts
From tears, alone, you’ve found something in yourself again. You’ve discovered everything you need, and have chased the real and fake images that have hounded you. You are alone.  You wouldn’t mind some company, but you are fine and happy by yourself. There is nothing bittersweet about this peace, but there is contemplation.

-T #26: “Rats Blossom Into Boys” ^3:52 +1:33 AM Kookooo Kitchen
You walk into the last room of the night. Things are happening for others.  Talk.  Drinks.  Other things you don’t want to look too closely at. You have no desire now for any of the former pastimes that once beguiled you.  You’ve made it somehow to the other end of the night.  You’re not yet sure what you have learned but you are certain of what to do. Leave

-T #27: “The City Limit” ^5:53 +2:31 AM The Radio Dept.
Streetlights cast their long rays, glimmering in the brisk dark night, pulsating rhythmically as you move past them, your bed calling to you. Feeling that familiar sense of being alone, you find yourself longing again, wistful, but not needing. Mildly happy with who you are and where you are, but wanting more. The shadows in the car give way to the streetlight drumbeat, like a strobe light in slow motion, to reveal your beloved nearly asleep in the passenger seat. How? Why has this all happened? Your loved one tells you that you have grown as you’ve needed to.  You’ve dream-lived your fears and fantasies, and have come to the other side.  Safe. While you were preoccupied, they had done the same. Paths have separated, crossed, split and then reunited in one giant thoroughfare, leading home; leading to a place that stands still as it runs and anchors only when it changes. Your hand is warm in your beloved’s hand. A sigh, on the verge of sleep. Where it’s at is where you are now; where you will always be as long as you desire it.

-Feck

1:In a typically Fecked-up state of affairs, I call my mixes “tapes”, which I burn onto CDs made to look like vinyl records, which are usually burned to mp3s and played on ipods/iphones.  I think the only thing that would make the circle complete is if the iphone had an 8-track case

The Ghost Ease, Younger Shoulder, Hugo Berlin and Tender Age at the Boom Bap, January 13

Holy hell, Portland, I am in *love*. Head over heels, smitten, twitterpated, gonzo, head-on-the -wheel, arrow-through-the-heart & the object of my affection is called The Boom Bap. It’s an auto body garage converted into an art gallery/music venue, yet you can almost still feel the exhaust in the air & see the oil on the ground. The only distinguishing feature on the outside is a small frame A-sign.  The entry is through the former business office, which serves as the ante-room to the garage/venue where various canvases of inspiring beauty are hung. Once past that and inside to the large garage space, tented aside to create a venue, I arrive to find the first act, a solitary artist performing under the moniker of Hugo Berlin, already on stage, playing in front of a a screen that’s manipulating her image to hypnotic effect, without being overtly 60’s psychedelic. It took me all of 20 seconds to decide that this is now my favorite music venue in town, edging out the still wonderfully beloved Valentine’s (where I wound up later that night, after the show).

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Hugo Berlin’s songs are melodic guitar meanderings that are still focused and tuneful over her live-looped guitar, but with a light and shimmering quality instead of the drone that you might imagine coming along with looping. Just as the screen is offering us various double images of the performer right in front of us, splitting the reality of her presence in front of the larger simulacra, so does her live playing over the just-recently played live-looping. (Baudrillard would have a field day thinking on it!)

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As she finishes her last song, she looks up with a sheepish smile that is also full of confidence & rightfully so. She had just played an amazing set & knew it. We all did.

The next act is The Ghost Ease. I had to see it in writing to get it, because spoken it sounded like “The Ghosties”, which I then realized could also be “The Ghost Tease” & now I’m picturing a character from a Veronica Falls song being flirtatious in a Vaudevillian manner (maybe inside a Victorian manor?). I then realized these puns were probably EXACTLY what they were going for, so: good one!

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As I hope my questionable-at-best photo skills demonstrate, this group is a two-piece that write songs with extreme &  forceful dynamics, from loud, tubey reverb Crazy Horse bombast to such tender & delicate poise, hovering with patience, letting the song develop. Her voice is somewhat reminiscent of Cat Power – while still being wholly unique – when she sings in her lower register (which is most of the time) & there are timbres of PJ Harvey in her intense and rousing falsetto. The drummer is also highly tuned-in to these sonic fluctuations, creating the dynamic that makes this band so appealing.  She is able to hit as hard as anyone during the open crescendos, yet is so cautiously attentive of the tender nuance the quiet parts so longingly call out for. She answers with a world-wise grin & an effortless rhythm that make this group just spellbinding to behold.

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The second song begins a bit more swimmingly than the first, which seems to be ballet dancing on broken glass, barefoot & feeling no pain.

“There’s an intensity knob on this” the singer says, in between songs, surprised by a double-entendre on the PA unit. Someone in the crowd cries out, “Turn it up!”.  There’s no need: this band has the musical intensity ratcheted-up to redline.

3rd song opens with big distorted sound, which gives way to a sweetly picked broken chord verse, before delving into a meandering power surge, nearly mathy towards the end, then returning to the sweet & shimmering, dripping spring rain sound of that verse.

After the singer decides to toss a rose she had crocheted earlier in the day, with an effortlessly charismatic plea for crowd-sourced suggestions as to its non-matrimonial significance (won’t lie: TOTALLY wished I would have caught it, to bring home some souvenir of the eve, in lieu of the lack of availability of any tape or vinyl I awkwardly inquired after in that laughable unintentionally-brusque-due-to-being over-caffeinated manner that seems to mark all of my interactions as of late.  I blame this for coming in the mail recently, making it IMPOSSIBLE to stop at just one cup. Holy hell 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters, you are The Bee’s Knees. Though, since it’s cold up in Canada, maybe cool beans is the oh-so-peachy-keen turn of phrase I’m looking for?), the last song opens with a picked, & angular start. It’s just the calm before the storm…really gives in to mathier tendencies while still keeping the dreampop vibe.

The band ends without any fanfare, informing us of their next show, which is Jan 19 at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center (never heard of it! Looks like real Portland artsy fun!) at Killingsworth & Interstate w/ Genders – a band I’ve been wanting to see for quite some time now, ever since I heard they had come into existence, rising from the ashes of the recently departed & much enjoyed band Youth. I’ve been “near missing” their shoes due to some obligation or other for a few months now.

Happy to see so many anoraks in the crowd (I’m speaking literally of the jacket…if you don’t know what that is – & don’t feel bad if that’s the case: I didn’t until I started knowing what the difference was between a Bosco & a Bruno – picture Han Solo on Hoth). I do think it’s by chance rather than necessarily by design affiliation to a scene, because this doesn’t seem scene-based at all, just friends and friends of friends, dedicated to art and to music.

One thing that really pleasantly jumps out at me is how wonderfully diverse this crowd is, which is unfortunate that’s still a novel thing that stands out in this city rather than being a mere matter-of-fact of life here. The diversity, the novelty of the location, the calm artistic sophistication of the crowd: this may be the most Brooklyn-feeling experience I’ve had in Portland, yet all-the-while still being uniquely Portland.  How is this not happening on a rooftop?

Next up is the touring act from Seattle, just a lone gentleman named Jacob Jaffe, going by the name “Younger Shoulder”.  He plays acoustic-style songs on a clean electric, sold mostly by his humble and irrefutable charm, sung with a tender and plaintive voice that is blissfully free from any pretense.  He is enchantingly self-effacing as evidenced by his claim that “in the other room there will be tapes & a poster of me wearing a nightgown…so…I’ll leave it at that.” It was really in the delivery. I would have picked up both a tape and a poster were it not for the post show-haste I found myself in to get to Valentine’s to catch more music & entertain a friend who had decided to join me.

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The last song he plays is by a local musician friend of his named Cole & it’s a sweet song about just being good to other people & feeling compassion & honestly it feels like a well-needed dose of medicine to me, since it can be easy at times to forget to focus on making that the most important thing, though on a night like this, at a place like this, with a crowd like this it seems wholly impossible to feel anything other than a pervasive sense of joy at being a part of the whole “being a human” thing & it seems impossible to feel anything but compassion and good will.

Wild Nothing’s Gemini album is the set change music & as you can imagine I’m loving the everliving hell outta that.

Tender Age is the last band, comprised of 4 members: keyboards/guitar, guitar/vox, drums & bass. The guitar in front of the keyboard (gent w/ the Elmer Fudd-style hat on…there must be a name for that sort of chapeau, isn’t there?) is ODing on reverb in the soundcheck. As you can guess I LOVE THIS!

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Tender Age look indiepop as all get-out & with the handclapped beginning of the first song, I realize I’m really in for a Twee-t! That opener has a great, surfy feel to it, nice echoey reverb vocals. I love seeing a standup drummer; it gives such a different feel to a performance, takes it away from that tired rock paradigm & brings it in to something more enthusiastic & freeform, somehow.  3rd or 4th song in has a really great bass run, mimicking the guitar line, yet unique painting around it. Steals the song. 4th or 5th song in, things took a turn for the darker/shoegazier with almost a bit of a Cure-being-played-by-Beach-House kind of vibe. Favorite song so far.

Next song is back to a more upbeat beach-at-night feel. 7th or 8th song has this Western guitar line driving across the song like a howling gale over a wind-swept mountain range in the Montana night.

The crowd is lively without ever being rowdy, & is deeply respectful while the bands are playing. It’s all ages & BYO. A few have solitary bottles of micros. It feels like wine would be wildly appropriate at this venue, yet I see none. I was told the venue was all ages, though I only see one under person who looks under 25: a cute little kid of maybe 5 (I’m no good at telling kids’ ages) who toddles her way through the crowd after the 1st set. One person in the crowd noticeably reeks a bit of weed smoke, but no one smokes anything inside, although you almost wouldn’t notice. This is a restrained yet aware crowd, literate, artistic & respectful. I guess it’s partially that sort of urbane balance that brings me rightly-or-wrongly to the aforementioned association with Brooklyn, from my long-ago-lived years there: mostly fulfilling job by day, artistic endeavors every night & a leisurely-sipped glass of wine or a solitary hit from a shared joint mixed European-style with some flavored tobacco. In other words, moderate & sustainable use of inspiration, be it media or intoxicant (or intoxicating media), steady dedication to art and relaxation, mixed with responsibility, curiosity and a sense of community. There is nothing truly “punk” about “punk rock excess”. “Getting wasted” time is exactly that: wasted time. We only get so much time to create what we want out of life. I only want just enough of a thing, be it drink, art, music what-have-you to COME ALIVE, not “get wasted”. (I hate myself more than a little for linking to that band, but the song is perfectly fitting my point). There are so many crowds for so many shows where beer is spilled and words are shouted & everything is done to forget what the day has done to us, the week, the month…This show isn’t like that, and this crowd isn’t like that, but neither is it stuffy or uncomfortable. In short, if I could dream up a crowd, if I could dream up some music to be played there: this would be it.  It’s experiences like this that are exactly why I choose to make Portland my home. See, I *told* you I was in love.  Boom Bap, I’m writing your initials on my notebook & drawing a heart around them!

Mr. F.

Ghost Mom at Valentine’s Dec. 16

Bummed I missed the 1st two bands, but after having seen what I did of the Mountain Goats I wouldn’t have missed that show for anything.

I ask the door guy if there’s any music left & he tells me there’s one band yet to go on. It turns out they’re called Ghost Mom, which cracks me up, because friends of mine/people I deeply admire: the awesome local theater troupe Action/Adventure Theater just did a serial play called Fall of the Band about the fracture & dissolution of a fictitious band & the name of the group in the play was “Ghost Dad” in homage to the Cosby celluloid masterpiece. (SRSLY, how the hell was it that Sidney Pointier “directed” that?) What they specialize in is a 4 week long run, with each weekend being a different “episode” exploring wacky hi-jinks & advancing the serial plot. This recommendation may sound like a TV Guide listing (I know, how retro-cool, right?) but trust me, hilarity *will* (& inevitably does) in fact ensue. The plot is very very loosely scripted & so is mostly improvised by the talented member of the troop. If you live in Portland & haven’t seen these guys play yet, WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU? Get thee to a theater, right now! Or…you know, when they’re actually in season. Whatever. SRSLY though. You won’t regret it.

Anyhow, I perch myself up in the balcony in time to hear the. 1st song. It’s reverby, w/ a great middle cacophonous chorus. Has a real surf-poppy feel to it. Amazing to get that much sound out of a 3 piece. The lead singer has a great stage presence, banters easily & good naturedly. In addition to this, she has real vocal dynamism, able to move from coarse belting into sweet crooning and back with comfort. She also has a rugged confidence that is contagious. There’s also a bass & a trap-kit drummer.

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2nd song, is more sing-y, with a bit of La Sera/Vivian Girls feel to it, then it turns a corner & picks up.

3rd song is working a bit of a garage-drenched 50s do-wop thing.

4th. Singer apologies, since it’s the first time she’s played this on guitar, she usually sings. Has a real pounding Theme From Peter Gunn vibe opening before expanding into some wonderfully noisy crash pop

5th song is called “Forget You”.  A slower & more sedate song, yearning with teenage sweetness that’s been Ramone-ed up a bit. The song is about giving out fake phone numbers when out at a bar. Up in the balcony, the girls watching along the front row are doing various impromptu & semi-coordinated late 50s/early 60s go-go dance moves. The light-hearted good feeling in the room is palpable & it’s a pleasantly large but not overbearing crowd for a Sunday night. Now that the Ella Street is closed, Valentine’s is now easily the best music venue in town, by which I mean the place where you’ve got the best odds of catching some tiny local act surprise you at how talented your neighbors are; that guy you saw dancing up a storm at the Holocene or the lady you saw reading Sartre at a bus stop in the rain can also play music that stops you in your tracks & you go, “whoa!”.  There’s times when this city/town feels woefully small & then there are times like this when it feels just the right size & that everyone here is secretly (or sometimes not-so-secretly) doing something AMAZING & is totally willing to show & tell you all about it if you just stop to ask.

The 6th song has a rougher start to it, but settles down into some gritty pop sweetness.

7th song didn’t really jump out at me, but it was enjoyable.

8th has the drummer taking over duty on the guitar & the lead singer walking around the room w/ the mic & a tambourine. It’s a slower, very croony song w/ that gritty edge of a Gretch-style guitar through some Fender distortion. This song really showcases the lead singer’s range & ability to belt. Make sense why they closed with that one: it was their most emotionally resonant song, at least it seemed that way to me on first (& only) listen.

Leaving, I get a look next door at Berbatti’s, Ted’s…whatever the hell they’re calling it now & am surprised to see…goths. Goths! They still make goths! I love those guys! Who knew?

I have to fight off the urge to run up to one of them & hug them & say, “I didn’t know they still made you guys! You guys are awesome!” but being:

A) A deeply reserved person despite my rampant wordiness
B) Always afraid that my overwhelming enthusiasm & sincerity will be mistaken for sarcasm
C) Wicked tired from a long day

cooler heads prevail & I head home for the night, with a lot of really great music ringing in my ears.

-Mr. F.

Mountain Goats Dec. 16 Aladdin Theater

I put in a laughably late request to get on the list.  Never heard back in like, what: the 45 minutes between when I sent it & getting to the show? Once there, I was told the computer system was down, so even if the publicist did get back in time, anything they sent in would be gone. I’d need an e-mail to get in.

Of course I didn’t have an e-mail & wasn’t surprised to have not heard back (cf. my *totally* unprofessional 45 minute prior request). I was hoping that maybe I could show some credentials to a tour manager & see what they could do, when lo & behold a friend working backstage swooped in out of nowhere w/ a spare ticket. I don’t know what kind of saint I must have been in a past life to earn the kind of friends that I have, but I’m incredibly grateful to have ’em…I know, those sentiments are nearly as cloyingly sweet as a Smittens song). Tooth decay is no laughing matter; SRSLY, this kind of writing is the opposite of funny, so on to the show.

I was mucking about in the back during opener Matthew E. White, who was clearly very talented, just not in a style that was particularly suited to my interests.  Instead, I decided to take advantage of a candid & unoccupied moment to talk a bit to John.

Knowing full well that he was into coffee (mostly due to a cursory read of a pre-show article that John Hodgman wrote where he talks about John’s rhapsodizing about “the alchemy of chemex1 coffee”) I figured I’d attempt to display some distinction by picking his brain about what roasters he likes, during the pre-show press hang-time mill-about. Long time readers (all 3 days!) may know that I am an absurdly obnoxious coffee snob.  (No joke, that last one was me.  Sweet and Low!  In a $20 cup?  Mr. Ozersky, you sir are a foodie; I would love to slather ketchup all over your Iranian Ossetra Caviar on toast with crème fraîche in rebuttal.)

Seeing my opportunity open, I offer, “So, I’ve gotta ask, with your having lived in both Portland and North Carolina, do you prefer the North Carolina/NYC/East Coast coffee scene, or do you think we’ve got the best out here?”

JD: “What specifically do you mean?”

HTWC: “Oh, like Counter Culture and Blue Bottle vs. Stumptown, Coava & Extracto…you know, our best up against theirs?”

JD: “You know, this is gonna disappoint you, but I’m embarrassed to admit that I like Peet’s.”

HTWC: “Peet’s?!?  Really?”

JD: “Yeah, I like really dark roasts.  I don’t care for all that, what-do-you-call it?  Latte art?”

HTWC: “Oh, but good coffee is so much more than that.  Peet’s burns off all of the…I don’t know: taste?”

JD: “See, I’m not looking for nuance in a coffee.  I just want to get a really good dark roast, fire up the old Chemex, get my 6 cups in me and GO!”

An enthusiastic stagehand behind me says, “Yeah, you just wanna get it in your veins, like, right?”

John offers a supportive “Yeah.”

The gentleman behind me continued: “Sorta like ‘why bother with a $10,000 Basquiat-painted heroin syringe?  It’s what’s in the needle that counts.’, Am I right?”

JD: “Uh…yeah.”

John and I both cringe a bit and then non-verbally share that we had a similar reaction as the gentleman saunters off to attend to something.

HTWC: “That was an ugly metaphor, wasn’t it?”

JD: “Yeah, a bit.  Putting aside how he passed, kinda apt, though.  Now I’m wondering what a Basquait syringe would look like.”

HTWC: “Samo as many others, just worth a bit more?”

JD: “Good one.”

HTWC: “So, no latte art?”

JD:  “Nope!  I don’t need like, hearts or whatever.”

HTWC: “So no trips to Heart Roasters while you’re in town?”

Deafening silence.

HTWC: “C’mon!  I’m in a room full of Portlanders!  Nothing?”

One roadie looked up & smiled, offering a thumbs up to Heart.  Oh buddy, if I ever see you in line, your espresso is on me.  Shit, I’ll even spluge for one of those $6.5 chemex pours of the Kenya Gaturiri (OMG To. Die. For.  Bright like Heart does from their extra light roast, & so complicated (it’s ok to hate me a bit for that link; whatever, I love it) like a Faulkner sentence but infinitely more enjoyable, in my not-so-humble estimation.  Forward fruit notes with some mild chocolatey hints make it even better than the Stumptown Gaturiri & even slightly better than Coava’s (although Coava’s baristas are nearly peerless in the city for espresso…though I have to say that Barista’s baristas are just as on it.)  I guess I was expecting banter like this from John, since he was able to so quickly express himself with such depth on such a wide-range of subjects, throughout the show.  At times, I felt like his thought process was somewhat similar to mine, only without my manifold glitches, stumbles, backtracks and missteps,.  He seemed to effortlessly offer pure and focused unedited content straight via caffeinated blast from synapse to tongue.  What I imagine my brain would look like if it…am is to be worked more better good and not is of the bad normals?  Whenever he spoke, I found myself simultaneously comforted and slightly jealous & I imagine that’s not an unusual reaction to him.

I could have gone on at length (as I’m sure readers here will have no doubt of) in defense of the manifold joys of 3rd Wave Specialty Coffee, but I neither wanted to be too disagreeable nor monopolize his time, so I slunk off to go take some notes.

So, I must admit: there’s fashionably late & then there’s (pardon the pun) Feckin’ late (my mates are always on about, when I tell ’em I’m 5 minutes away, “Great. Now is that M.F.T. [Michael Feck Time] or Real Time”. Point is I’m way beyond Feckin’ late to the Mountain Goats party.

Yeah, I’d heard them before, (quite a few times, actually) but I hadn’t really *heard* them before today’s show. I mean in my previous listenings, I just committed the auditory equivalent of glancing by & since I’m almost never able to immediately hear all – or sometimes even any – of the lyrics (my ears are a strange loop) the style jumped out at me & in my previous all-punk-all-the-time mindset, didn’t really give them a second thought. Then I heard the Jawbreaker cover of Boxcar, which offended my sensibilities, because once upon a not-very-long-at-all time ago…(cue cheesy flashback cutaway sequence)

My ex and I were talking about this one time on a long road trip & I was on about how it lacked the punch that it needed & she said that she liked how he changed the lyrics from “killing cops & reading Keroauc” to “watching Cops & reading a female author” which upset me greatly, for radically altering the spirit of the song.  It takes the revolutionary sentiment of physically ending the violent watchdogs of the exploitative and oppressive status quo while also reading the works of a hagiographic dreamer. Never mind that now to my more evolved mindset, violence is as abhorrent to me as Keroauc’s misogyny, (though I still regard the police with distrust & cherish some of the more focused dithyrambs of Keroauc, despite the truly unevolved patriarchal & conservative bullshit he was immersed in), I was outraged when I heard this!

It reeked of tokenism & a faceless one at that instead of chasing what is loved, since the whole point of the song is embracing what is truly loved, despite whatever image is expected from a group or “the scene”. Turns out it was just me being foolish. She was saying that it was a female author who’s name she couldn’t remember, not just “a female author”. Of course, it was Didion, as in Joan Didion, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” is easily one of the best pieces of creative nonfiction to emerge from the 60s. And that photo of her smoking? If that is not the very embodiment of urbane sophistication, I don’t know what is. I would give anything to have a seat at a table where people who look like she does in that photo are discussing the issues of the day & the larger ones as well. What constitutes art? To what extent are we as humans, truly free will agents? How much of this chair may I remove before it ceases to be able to be considered a chair? How many more obnoxious questions can I ask before I chase away every reader?

My point? That Jawbreaker cover I really took personal affront to & accordingly harbored a deep reluctance to give them any further of a chance. Oh how glad I am I repented of my foolishness!

From here on out, in vain attempt at some sort of brevity, I’ll just quote my unedited notes (aided only by a cursory glance at the setlist) & lines that jumped out at me.

Sold out for the night, long in advance I suspect. The front area of the stage, normally seats is standing room only, & people are standing.

Opening music is some Elliott Smith, chosen by the venue, I’m certain, though I can’t imagine John minds too much.  Then there’s a song, clearly chosen by John that I don’t immediately recognize, as the lights dim.

 

1st song is “White Cedar” which just opens w/ John & the keys. Shout out to NW 23rd that gets a cheer from the crowd.  Horns kick in, slightly off-key, but in a charming, not obnoxious way.

“I’ll be reborn someday…”

 

2nd song “Amy AKA Spent Gladiator 1” is just john, the bass & drums…driving.

“Let people call you crazy for the choices that you make”

 

3rd song “Love Love Love” has a slow, acoustic opening. I can tell it’s an old favorite as the crowd sings along knowingly in a way that just doesn’t happen with a new album, no matter how great the songs are.  There’s also an allusion to Kurt Cobain in the song that jumps out at me.  Even bigger than that is this haunting line:

“The things you do for love are gonna come back…”

 

4th Song “Up the wolves”

Slow, yet upbeat. Folky & dancey at the same time. Takes 2nd verse to a shouty level that’s pretty compelling.

“There’s bound to be a ghost at the back of your closet
no matter where you live.
There’ll always be a few things, maybe several things
that you’re going to find really difficult to forgive.”

Whoa.  Ouch.  Whoa.

 

5th song is “Until I am whole”

He prefaces the song with mention of his Catholic upbringing & how that “Yoga of self-mutilation” influenced him.

Dire sounding acoustic opening, but takes a nice turn to avoid dirg-y ness.

 

6th song is called “In The Craters on the Moon “

About not leaving a room for quite some time.  Thrusty acoustic opening.  Really exuberant & tumultuous driving end to the song.

 

7th song: “It Froze Me”

“This song is super old.” Loud crowd road…”doesn’t mean it’s any good”

Picked opening. No drummer onstage.

 

8th song: “Woke Up New”

Now John’s onstage by himself.

“On the morning when I woke up without you for the first time
I was cold so I put on a sweater and I turned up the heat
And the walls began to close in and I felt so sad and frightened
I practically ran from the living room out into the street”

Oh lord, who hasn’t been there?  The roughest, loneliest of mornings.  Actually cold, too.  Even when it’s summer.  Hell, especially when it’s summer.

 

9th song: “Steal Smoked Fish”

He’s excited to play this song in pdx. Joke about his relationship w/ it.   “Some songs you make a clean break from & move onto other things, but then others are like ex’s you can’t quite quit:   “Hey, I was just thinking about you…Wanna meet for coffee?”

The lyrics get a huge local cheer:

“Across the Burnside bridge
Before anyone shot their movies there
We hid from the whipping rain
When we had run out of cocaine”

 

10th song is “Shadow Song”

“If you get there before me, would you save me a seat…”

Really low, somber & bittersweet start. The most intense song so far…intense is not the word. Reserved? No, not that either…down?  Words fail me to find this mood right now.  I’ll just listen…

 

11th song is “Ezekiel 7 and the Permanent Efficacy of Grace”

He brings drummer back to the stage. Takes the keys.  “The clouds explode & the desert blooms…

Angstiest keyboard-led song ever. I love it. Abt tortured & torturer, plays well as love & combat. Emotionally charged like the precursor to a thunderstorm, then the mallet-hit toms kick in & it’s as if a convoy, large & thunderous has set out across a sprawling scene, tearing asunder the underbrush & causing creatures to scurry hurriedly out of the way. Ends w/ solitary bass kick like an expiring heartbeat.

 

12th song is “The Diaz Brothers”

The bassist is back. Talking about Scarface & watching it with his kid & a hyper-caffeinated rant about the need to not vilify characters that are horrible because to do so would violate the whole premise & render the experience unwatchable.

Has a real punch to it, provided by more-aggressive-than-this-night-has-seen drumming.  The bass is also exceptionally thunderous on this track.

 

13th song:  “In Memory of Satan”

The horns come back. “The secret to a good long life? Jumping up & down.”  The Satan is this song is the one of depression, of not leaving yr house, John tells us.

 

14th song: “Cry For Judas”

Opens w/ the “do my thing” gag from James Brown to the horns section.  “Can I do my thang?”.  Not as obnoxious as you might imagine; I know I’d roll my eyes were I to read that.

Good, rumbly bass & drums combo; feel that beat in my chest & through the whole seat.

 

15th song: “Wild Sage”

The horns split, leaving the band alone.

Slow, falsetto start “like a prisoner breaking out of jail…”

 

16th song:  “First Few Desperate Hours”

“Ever think about changing the lyrics from ‘I’ll fly away’ to ‘I’ll get divorced’? That’s this song”

Clearly a crowd favorite.  Really, vigorously upbeat, like a colorado drive with a few giant clouds in an otherwise gigantic & clear azure sky.

 

17th song: “Spent Gladiator 2”

The trumpet player comes out.  “This song is about the sure eventuality of defeat”

1st song John sings w/out an instrument. Doesn’t seem as uncomfortable alone at the mic as you might expect, which is not to say he doesn’t look uncomfortable. Makes a few gestures to hammer home his lyrics.

“Maybe spit some blood at the camera…stay forever ALIVE.” Hard close. “Thank you, goodnight.”

We know they’re not going anywhere. The question is how long of an encore are we gonna see. Full band is back, of course…

 

Encore 1:  “Transcendental Youth”

Johns at keys. He said, after 2 tours he still can’t quite explain the song & makes a point, a near-superstitious one, about never repeating the same speech twice, but challenging himself with every intro.

“So, not to sound like one of those Chakra counting hippies, but this song is about the ‘healing power of sexuality’, is what I want to say & then I realize how horribly obnoxious that sounds, like if you saw that on the placard as one of the seminars at a convention… you’d turn & run the other way, wouldn’t you?”  Yes, John.  Yes I would.  Still, good song.  I see why you named the album after it.

 

Encore 2:  “This Year”

Peppy acoustic opening immediately recognized by the crowd. Great, shouty delivery

The enthusiasm, even playing a song it sounds like they’ve played for quite a long time still comes through in the sound & in the performance, all bounces & smiles from John & the band

“I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me”

 

2nd Encore 1:  “No Children”

Great line about Chopin, “…can’t show the nuance of Chopin on a Yamaha; what do I look like Reginia Spector?” “Yeah, actually, you kind of do.”

“I hope you die. I hope we both die.”

This song is so full of such cheerfully-expressed scorched-earth-policy bile that it makes Idiot Wind look like a bedtime story.

 

2nd Encore 2:  “Palmcorder Yajna”

Great lively song that resulted in John & the bass player leaping around the stage like cracked out Bunny Rabbits. The smiles were thoroughly contagious.  I left my perch on the balcony to come down & dance, knowing that I’d remember all I’d need to & to hell with what I couldn’t.

 

After the show, it occurs to me that all of us in the room (exception of a few drunken shouter-outters, who, to John’s credit, he handles with the utmost of diplomacy & tactful good humor) are essentially like John to varying degrees: bright, over-caffeinated, with a great many books at home and a great deal to say, and sometimes, no one to say it to.

It seems the thing about John, about the type of patience he displays with the voices crying out in the crowd, that type of semi-guarded-but-always-present compassion he shows is born out of those days (Weeks? Maybe months?) spent alone in a room, hurting.  The sort of conclusion one can fairly easily come to after such a thing is that no one is worth ignoring.  Every person that you pass, that you get the chance to interact with is someone you should make a good faith effort to hear, because they have walked through some kind of hell or other.  Protect yourself if you must, because sometimes that’s just what you have to do, but give them a chance before you make that decision.  That’s what I learned from watching the Mountain Goats play; well, that, and HAVE THE MOST FUN EVER, even when you are sad.  Hell, ESPECIALLY when you are sad.  That’s part of how you dig yourself out of that.

I think that’s how John responded to heckling & shout-outs with aplomb instead of haughty or dismissive cruelty.  When people are paying money to see you play music & night after night you’re constantly being told how great you are just for doing what you love to do & would be doing anyway if you could, if you are of a certain temperament, it is easy to see how one might respond self-righteously instead of with patient curiosity.  “I’m the goddamned artist & you’ll take what I give you or you’ll have nothing at all!” instead of “Hey, you know, I really like that song, but I knew that when I was playing with X & frankly don’t remember how it goes anymore.”  Basically, some people just react without considering what they are interacting with and others have this remarkable ability to be present.  Of course, no one is all one or all the other but it was inspiring to see John navigate the crowd, taking in what they were putting out & responding quickly yet complexly in his hyper-caffeinated glory.

At the end of the day, what I found so compelling about John  wasn’t just the music, which I deeply enjoyed, but this sense that I was in the presence of a person who is both brilliant AND compassionate, which is just an infectious & inspiring feeling.

-Mr. F.

 

1: Of all the chemex pics I could have linked to, I picked this one because I drink my morning cup out of the same exact cup pictured here…which I’m actually a bit mad at, because it chipped the very chemex in question this morn. Damn you Chicago and yr being stronger than anything ever!